I don’t remember the first time or how often it happened. I don’t remember who said it. I don’t even remember if anyone said it at all. What I do remember is growing up with a weird sense of what I wanted to be as a man. What it meant to be strong.
This has always puzzled me to some degree because my example of manhood growing up was possibly the best a young lad could ask for. My father is a Godly man who loves Jesus, serves his family and church, is slow to speak, quick to listen, and so gentle we actually pick on him about his mellow ways from time to time.
So where did I get this odd sense of what I wanted to be as a man? Was it formed by society? Was it bolstered by seeing my father be taken advantage of in his service to others? I don’t know, but what I do know looking back, especially in this day and age of warped sensibilities and human ideals, what I need as a man is often to embrace the opposite of what the world tells me to be. What I need is to
Our culture has tried to convince us weakness is always, and in every situation, a bad thing. It is something to be avoided, built around, and run from. We even go so far as to convince ourselves weakness is rare, or at least for us. Everyone wants to see themselves as the “strong one.” No one jumps into a difficult situation and says, “I’m here, the weak one, someone please help me.”
No, we want to the be the one carrying the load when the chips are down. Apparently, it’s in our nature to want strength. But, it is good to note how weakness has come for us all, regardless of our level of disdain for it.
Whenever I start to feel a little bit self-righteous or like I’m the strongest person to weather the storm, I need only look to my own experience to see just how wrong I am. Whether it is sitting at my daughter’s hospital bedside praying for a miracle or watching my inner circle of friends move away and leave me behind. Or maybe it’s all the times where I asserted my strength and left only a littered mess of wreckage and hurt. Like I said, it doesn’t take long.
Although our culture and history have told us repeatedly to “man up” and “be strong”, it occurs to me that the cry from the Word is often a bit different.
Even in the Christian worldview, we sometimes see a hyper-masculine form of inner strength exalted and encouraged. As with so many topics, I believe we should work hard to bend against, not with, the culture at large.
From its very inception, Christianity has been counter-cultural to the world around it in almost every way, upholding values and principles which often run in direct opposition to the mainstream. The discipline of being a Godly man is no different.
Our world is fraught with examples of society encouraging men to be strong, and that isn’t entirely a problem. When I look into scripture, I see enormous strength in Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the other apostles. I see towering fortitude in Mary, Stephen, John the Baptist, and others.
So what does it then mean to be weak?
What is it we are encouraging people to do? Be a pushover? A wimp? Are we asserting to be Christian one must back down from their convictions and let others run them down? No, not really. Maybe a better approach would use Be Vulnerable.
The foundation of Biblical weakness is first and foremost knowledge.
Knowledge of self, knowledge of our brokenness, knowledge of our need. Before we can understand and appreciate the incredible gift and good news of the Gospel, we must first understand and appreciate the great and enormous need for it.
Understanding our broken, sin-ravaged condition apart from Christ enables us to live in such a way that befuddles contemporary wisdom and confounds the enemy at every turn.
But how does this work? How can we make a call to action in favor of weakness?
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 [emphasis mine]
According to the apostle Paul, if we are to ever find strength, we must first embrace our weakness. All this for the sake of Christ and the working of His power in and through us.
Have you ever had one of those days? You know the type, the ones that never seem to end, the ones where Murphy’s Law is at every hand, filling your day and your mind with countless assaults against your well-being? Remember how you felt at the end of that day? Tired, exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. Remember how it seemed a great triumph just to put one foot in front of the other?
How about when your life seems to be spinning out of control? Jobs are lost, diseases are diagnosed, financial directions reverse, children go astray, and worse. Sometimes nothing you do can fix the situation. Sometimes all you can do is sit; sit and wait. sit and watch, sit and do nothing.
You feel weak, helpless, and frustrated. It is in these moments our faith is tested at its core. Our culture will teach us to pick ourselves up, square our shoulders and press on. Make a change. Create a new path, show our strength. The problem with this approach is in the origin of its power.
Any power, any brute force attempt to make changes in our world that come from within, any which originate in our own desires and abilities, are of the flesh and we stand in grave danger when we lean on them.
Why? Didn’t God make me with this talent, or that gift? Maybe. The danger isn’t ultimately in personal power itself, but in reliance on it. It undermines our faith, fills our moments with tiny expectations of self-salvation instead of utter and complete dependence on our Father for everything. Even Jesus understood this in His flesh, though He remained God:
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.
2 Corinthians 13:4
Jesus ushered in a new economy of power; a new way of keeping the books, so to speak. In weakness He was crucified, but in that very weakness, His resurrection would come not by the power of this world, but by the Power of God. In him, we find ourselves weak. Weak to what? Weak towards the temptation of this world, weak in confidence in self because of our own brokenness, weak in ability to save and sustain ourselves.
However, it is in this weakness, that, like Him through utter and complete submission, we find ourselves welling up with Power. Triumph, and Resurrection by the same power which brought Jesus from the grave. We, as He, can be confident when we see weakness, not cowardly or arrogant or fearful. We can embrace it knowing in these moments His Power begins its full working.
As a cherry on top of an already wonderful blessing, we find yet another. Not only did He demonstrate this for us, He also understands our struggle in it.
It is easy to think He could not know, or even did not know, what it means to really be “us.” The scriptures herald another Truth, however:
Nor we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
When you think of weakness, what comes to mind? Oppression? Abuse? Advantage? Suffering? Maybe all are true, maybe they really do come in moments of weakness. How about fear, depression, apathy, anger? All of these are by-products of feeling weak.
The next time these things roll into your mind, remember you are in the prime place for God to do something. As a man, a husband, a father, or church leader, it is imperative we not run away from our weaknesses, but we recognize them, run into them and let Jesus do what He needs to do with them.
We should no longer be held captive by the poorest examples of our fleshly accomplishment, but allow Him in His power to work in those very spaces to produce redeemable glories belonging only to Him.